Those giants lighting our night skies are a curious bunch
Jupiter greets the darkness from low in the southwest, still a dazzling sight but setting by 7pm.
Mars rises in the northeast around 9pm amid the constellation Gemini. The bright stars Castor and Pollux, the twins’ heads, shine about 15 degrees to the north. Castor is the fainter of the two, shining a bluish-white, while his half-brother glows a pale red.
While both these stars rank in the top 25 brightest, it is more a result of their relative proximity than their size, as Pollux is 35 light years away and Castor 52 light years. As a comparison, look 20 degrees south of Mars to the red giant Betelgeuse, the shoulder of Orion, which is 310 light years away yet outhsines each as the 10th brightest star in the heavens and the third largest known.
While many of the brightest stars outline familiar constellations, others practically float in empty space. Fomalhaut, a first-magnitude star that appears in the south at sunset and sets in the southwest around 11pm, is such a star. Fomalhaut marks the dim constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, not to be confused with the zodiacal constellation Pisces, the fishes.
Astronomers have noted high levels of infrared radiation surrounding the star and coming in a huge disk of matter four times larger than our own solar system. Scientists believe that our own planetary solar system likely formed under similar conditions.
Back within our own solar system, Saturn rises in the hour following midnight. By 3am, Venus rises due east, outshining all other objects but the early morning moon.
As daybreak approaches, now at 6:45, look for Mercury low in the east-southeast, about as far below Venus as the morning star is beneath Saturn.
Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2007 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.